Compromise on childcare centre

Local parents and the City of Melbourne have reached a sensible compromise to keep the Melbourne City Childcare Centre in A’Beckett St open until the end of the year.

Council management wanted to evict the 19 families using the centre on August 31 but, at the Future Melbourne Committee meeting on June 21, councillors intervened and unanimously voted to extend operations until December 21.

After the meeting, parents were ecstatic – despite wanting the centre to remain open until a 120-place facility is opened at the nearby Queen Victoria Market "Munro" site.

Many had addressed councillors, citing numerous reasons why the centre should not be closed.

Parents presented research that their children would be damaged if separated prematurely from their carers and peers.  If they were to be relocated, they asked to be moved together – a privilege they pointed out that was recently afforded to families at two other council-run centres.

Parent Alan Bailey said: “Potentially negative outcomes include: increased emotional and behavioural distress, which can persist for weeks following a care transition; increased social withdrawal and aggression; and decreased quality of relationships with subsequent teachers and peers.”

“The harsh reality is that, should an abrupt closure go ahead, the children of A’Beckett St will bear the personal cost of previous councils’ poor planning for CBD childcare.”

Parent Daniel Vigilante accused council management of making “absurd excuses” for closing the centre.

“12 years ago, it was electromagnetic radiation in the kitchen.  This time it is dust from nearby developments,” he said.

He said the management’s recommendation to close the centre in August was “extraordinarily unfair and it borders on callous”.

“We’re pleading with council to show some compassion and give us just a little more time,” he said.

The council estimates it is costing $50,000 per month to keep the centre open, largely because there are not enough children.

Community services manager Alison Duncan told the meeting: “On a Monday the centre runs with five staff – a co-ordinator and four staff – for as little as five children, if we have one child away.”

But parents say the council had not tried hard enough to attract more families.

“There are parents literally begging to come to this centre,” Mr Vigilante said.

“By your own figures, that’s a couple of hundred thousand dollars – money well spent, that will allow the kinder kids to finish their last few months before transitioning to primary school.”

The council’s people portfolio chair, Cr Beverley Pinder, proposed the compromise and won unanimous support from her colleagues behind the scenes.

Cr Nicolas Frances Gilley said: “I’m going to support Beverly’s motion partly because it’s her portfolio and she’s in it and she’s having the conversations.”

Cr Susan Riley said: “To think that we would put them through four months of uncertainty before they are ready for school doesn’t sit well with me.”

But she cautioned parents to understand that the centre had to be closed: “This is the best that we can do. Please understand that this centre is not viable to go on any further.”

After the meeting, Mr Vigilante said: “While many of us are still disappointed that council has decided to close the centre without a genuine transition pathway or alternative centre to move into, we are at least pleased that a sensible compromise has been secured.”

He acknowledged Cr Pinder’s efforts: “I thank her enormously – she was instrumental.”

Cr Pinder said: “As chair of the People City portfolio, my leaning will always be towards ‘people first’ ensuring my views on fairness are strongly conveyed to my councillor colleagues while affording respect to their individual standpoints.”

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